The first, and possibly most important thing you need to know about this show is that it is performed with a cinematic edge, inspired by the silent film era and aims to recreate early 21st century film styles live on stage. If you are missing this piece of information, which I was before I saw the show, the performances will make a lot less sense, and the style will be confusing. It’s a pity this isn’t marketed greater, as it is a huge selling point of the show and how brave and bold Little Ones Theatre has been in creating the piece.
Reminiscent of film legends Truffaut and Goddard, as well as the comedic styles of Charlie Chaplin, Dracula is a camp and funny, albeit confusing show. The show is beautiful performance art, with the cast performing stiff, repetitive movements, not unlike Chaplin’s signature walk, and the way he would over perform actions, in the art of mime. The show contains no dialogue, so these dramatic and calculated movements are needed to imply details about the character; for example, the simple act of walking, or meeting someone, implies a lot about a person’s character, beliefs and behaviours.
The show opens on a bare but well decorated set- a floor covered in sequins, glittery curtains and large, red satin lined coffins. Throughout the show, we are taken from different places and settings simply with the covering of a coffin set piece and changes in the lighting. Theatreworks is a big space and working in such a deep stage, the set was the right amount of minimalistic, allowing the actors more space to move and control the space, instead of allowing larger set pieces to dominate the space. The clever storage of props inside the coffins makes each characters motivations clear and overstated as each prop is brought out, and thrust aloft to the audience.
Costume design by Eugyeene Teh was well matched to the set with the sixties style, monochrome clothing, with bright hits of colour, made it easy for each cast member to change their style, personality and character across the show. Lighting was simple but effective, creating strong darks and lights, and working with the illumination of the glitter and sequins incorporated into the set, as well as the creative use of bright flash lights by the cast to create suspense and adventure.
The sound design was very well done (and needs to be with a show with no dialogue) so it is fantastic that the sound design of Dracula is one of it’s strengths. A combination of well-known 70s and 80s tunes, combined with ambient, scary music and sound effects create a camp, very engaging sound scape, and it sets the mood well. We are able to ascertain the time frame of the show, and it’s mood in each scene clearly from the music and sound effects, and the mixture of the two styles of sound, as almost polar opposites, keep the show ever changing through bright and dark, as well as different from any other vampire tale.
It was quite difficult to follow the show, with the original plot of Dracula buried somewhere in there. The large centre sections, where additional characters are introduced and the show goes back and forth between two storylines, what is happening and how any of the actions relate to each other is completely lost until Van Helsing turns up. This however may be a nod to the way Dracula is written, in an epistolary form where the novel is told in a series of letters, diaries and ship entries, creating a varied set of vignettes. I may not be as familiar with Dracula as I thought, however on further reading much of the original text and the different plot lines have been incorporated into the show, however with female actors playing many of the male characters, and no dialogue to drive it, the show relies on an open mind, and knowledge of Stoker’s original text.
The show is also very funny. Due to its pantomime nature, the audience, who on Halloween night, were badly behaved and spoke throughout the entire show (perhaps because they did not appear to understand the format or nature of the show) got a great laugh out of the inherent comedy in the piece: the movements are funny, the melodrama and over acting is funny, the interactions with other cast members are funny. Humour is one of the main drivers of the show, that keeps the audience engaged with the show, especially when they are having trouble following it. But we are watching a show with a shirtless, and very buff priest Van Helsing, who’s lack of shirt doesn’t stop him from wearing a collar, and proceeds to drink out of a protein shaker he found in his medical bag.
A key point should be made here for audience members: You’re having a great time and you’re laughing along and that’s great. But just because the show has no dialogue, does not mean you should feel the need to provide it, or talk to your colleagues throughout the whole show: it’s disrespectful to the highly talented performers, the hard work of the crew, and other theatre patrons.
This show is certainly an erotic, sensual and sexualized version of the classic vampire tale, and some of this comes from the casting of women in roles that were originally male in the novel, but much of this comes from the seductive portrayal of the vampires, and their victims as they succumb. There is full frontal nudity, as warned, and a lot of topless-ness as the vampires seduce and attack their victims, but it is used in a vulnerable, as well as enticing way by the cast- just don’t bring young kids to the show.
Management of the stage wasn’t too bad, though it’s a pity that the great sound design couldn’t cover the noisy curtain that was drawn open and closed, as the stage was reset, as well as some pretty prominent noise while resetting. Despite this, the movement around the set, as well as the creation and use of different spaces using the curtains were good, and the entrances by cast from every angle of the stage kept the show fresh and dynamic.
Dracula by Little Ones Theatre is a great night out at the theatre overall, and is consistent with the great theatre they have been producing. It is bold and original and before you attend the show, I highly recommend you skim the plot points of Stoker’s Dracula, and go with an open mind and an excitement for new and innovative theatre. Dracula plays at Theatreworks in St Kilda until 14th November 2015.